UPDATED: Hilliard City Schools prepared for multiple scenarios for 2020-21

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

Hilliard City Schools will start four days later than planned, and all students will attend in-person classes only if Franklin County is at a Level 1 on the state’s Public Health Advisory System, according to a revised Responsible Restart plan presented by Hilliard Superintendent John Marschhausen to board members during a virtual meeting July 27.

He reiterated the plan in a community Zoom address July 30.

Classes will start Aug. 24 instead of Aug. 20, and the “all-in” plan will be limited to when Franklin County is at Level 1 on the state scale, designed to assess the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

When proposed July 9, the all-in plan was to be instituted if the county were at Level 1 or 2, with a hybrid model in effect for Level 3. Under the revised plan approved July 27, the all-in mode occurs only if Franklin County is at Level 1. A hybrid mode would be used in Level 2, and “eLearning 2.0,” which once was proposed only for Level 4, now applies to Levels 3 and 4.

Marschhausen said July 9 that he would present the Responsible Restart plan to board members July 27 for formal approval. He said he “had no intent” as late as July 26 to alter the plan he had presented July 9, but it became apparent the change was needed after discussions July 26 and 27 with Joe Mazzola, the health commissioner for Franklin County Public Health, and the placement of Columbus as one of 11 potential coronavirus “hotspots” by Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The board voted to authorize Marschhausen to change modes of education based on the recommendation of health-department officials. He is required to seek board approval only for a recommendation that is contrary to those of health officials at the local, county, state or national level.

Marschhausen said making public-health decisions is “outside of my lane” and the district’s policy would follow the recommendations of health-department officials.

The district Monday, Aug. 10, is expected to announce in which of the three modes the district will open Aug. 24. As of July 27, Franklin County is at a Level 3, which would require eLearning 2.0, or remote learning from home.

Students have not been in a classroom since March 13 after Gov. Mike DeWine announced the closure of all schools to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Marschhausen said he remains optimistic that the recent statewide mandate for all Ohioans to wear masks in public will allow for in-person education by Aug. 24.

“We are at an unprecedented time,” Marschhausen said.

He said the administration has received correspondence from parents and community members “at a frenetic pace” on potential plans – from support for sending every student back to school to keeping schools completely closed.

“I understand people are angry and frustrated,” he said, adding he privately shares in such frustration when weeks of work to forge a plan that was expected to be implemented is derailed by ever-shifting COVID-19 conditions.

Responding to social-media comments, Marschhausen said people who believe teachers do not want to safely teach students face to face are “just plain wrong.”

“We are busting our butt to get back to school,” he said.

Separate from eLearning 2.0 – the district’s mode to teach online when students can’t attend class – is its online academy.

The registration cutoff for the online academy was July 24, and 2,914, or 18%, of the district’s students had enrolled, Marschhausen said.

After the July 27 meeting, because of the announced changes, the district noted via Twitter that district families would be permitted to enroll or withdraw from the online academy until 11:59 p.m. July 30.

Students in the online academy have opted to receive online instruction, regardless of the way other district students are being taught.

Teachers for the online academy will be selected – with attention to those who have underlying health conditions or family members with such conditions – with the assistance of the Hilliard Education Association, Marschhausen said.

Under the approved plan, the remaining students will be divided into Group A and Group B, based on last names.

After allowing for families to switch groups so that family members with different last names could belong to the same group, 6,811 students are in Group A and 6,538 in Group B, Marschhausen said.

In the hybrid plan, students in each group would attend classes and receive online instruction on alternating days.

If students return to classrooms, each desk will have physical dividers, Marschhausen said.

All teachers would be required to wear a mask or face shield, and all students in grades 7 to 12 would be required to wear masks.

Students in grades 3 to 6 would have to wear masks on buses and in hallways but would have scheduled breaks in classrooms. Those in kindergarten to second grade would be required to wear masks on buses and in the hallway but not in the classrooms.

Board members thanked Marschhausen and the administration for creating the plan while acknowledging the hardships.

“We will get criticism regardless of what we do, (but) we are doing the right thing for the community,” said board member Brian Perry.

Marschhausen told board members the district needs to follow health-department guidelines to avoid potential litigation and also must consider conditions in Columbus, where half of the district’s student population resides.

On July 30, Marschhausen said if the district were to ignore health-department guidelines and a student or staff member contracted COVID-19, the liability would be “astronomical.”

“It is not about being scared; it is about being prudent,” said Marschhausen, adding the district would submit plans to the health department as soon as possible when conditions allow for a return of students to school buildings.

During the July 27 meeting, Stacie Raterman, director of communications for Hilliard City Schools, read the comments of about a dozen parents and community members.

They included some calls for all students to return to classes, and others who said students should not return even if Franklin County is downgraded to Level 1.

“These are not easy choices, (but) we have done our due diligence,” board member Lisa Whiting said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo